Letters From The Field

Have pen, will travel. Sending letters.

Why keeping a (travel) journal?

A letter from home. In which are advocated benefit and use of keeping a diary.

January 2015

dear

a Happy New Year, my friend; hope you had a good start into this one. It’s one of the first days of the new year, morning, and I am sitting at my desk, still in the dressing gown I’ve just thrown on. It’s raining outside, but I’ve got a cup of hot coffee next to me, so why should I care. Right in front of me a worn leather-bound book sits on the desk. This book, you know, this is my journal.

journal

Almost exactly a year ago, on New Year’s Eve in 2013, I thought about keeping track of the year ahead in a diary. I looked at it as some kind of experiment. Capturing the whole year: Each day an entry. While not completely new to keeping a journal (I can look back at quite a variety of travel journals and sketchbooks in the shelve right behind me), doing this each and every day still is some kind of a challenge; you probably can imagine. Sitting down each evening and thinking about what could have been noteworthy that day. Every day!

IMG_8082

Well, actually … that’s the whole point of it, isn’t it? Of keeping a diary, I mean. Taking a minute or two and reflecting the day that just has passed. Focussing on key moments, on the quintessence of each day. So, why keeping a journal? It’s as easy as that, I think: To remember! Sure, we’ve taken 32 GB of photos during that awesome trip through Greenland a couple of years ago (I sent a letter from there, do you remember?). Plenty of memories. And actually these are some great pictures. But do photos also  help to remember such simple things as the weather on that peculiar morning in Iceland? The air’s smell after the downpour in that Canarian laurel forest? “Unimportant, sentimental.” I hear you murmuring? What about the family of whales which were passing by in that Greenland fjord? Among the blurry photos, there’s one pretty impressing, true. But the  real memory’s surely more than this, isn’t it? The invaluable feeling watching out of the tent this morning – still sleepy – and catching a glimpse of these giants blowing out there. Recollecting this kind of context of these peculiar moments in the journal – the colours, sounds, smells, and flavours – definitely helps to keep the memory alive. The written word has a somehow assortative power here, helping to get all those places, people, impressions, and emotions into sequence, tie them to each other and give the whole experience much more substance – in a long-term perspective. You just have to persuade yourself to observe the whole scene more thoroughly, perceiving all the little details. And by doing this, by putting these impressions down onto paper, one is also forced to adopt an outside perspective – which in my humble opinion actually helps to get a much clearer understanding of what’s happening around us … and our role therein.

stolberg

glacier

Oh, and while we’re at it, I’d also like to speak out in favour of the travel sketch (which, by the way, goes well with the travel journal). I mean, obviously, there’s nothing wrong with taking photos. You know I do this too, of course. And quite a lot. I actually rarely leave without the camera (that’s why I changed my rather bulky SLR with a much handier smaller camera recently – reminds me I already wanted to tell you about this in my last letter). But sometimes, back home, when going through all these photos, I kept wondering about this place and that scene. And then I realized that apparently I have looked at some of the marvels abroad only through the viewfinder of the camera. Noticed the motive, but not really seen it. Sounds a bit sad and boring, doesn’t it? Sitting down with journal (and sketchbook), pencil and brush on the other hand always gives me the time – well, demands the time – to take a closer look. To observe. The whole scene. To perceive. The little details. The quick sketch may be inferior to the photograph regarding exactness, but it asks for a view at the overall picture – capturing a whole scene, telling a whole story with a few pencil strokes and some splashes of colour.

So, why hesitating to start a diary? Yes, I know you just complained about “My life’s not interesting enough to keep that noted in a journal.” And “I am terribly bad at writing; no one would ever like to read that stuff.” Well, my friend. That’s actually not true. First things first: There’s nothing ‘uninteresting’ – in particular if you’re travelling. I mean, every single moment is part of the overall ride, so every moment counts. Why not just write about what happened … and what didn’t? It’s totally up to you to consider the interesting person, the important thought, the noteworthy place. Interesting, important, and noteworthy to you! Because – and that’s second: If you’re able to hold a pen and know how to write, you know everything you need to write down a journal entry. It’s as easy as that: If you can say it, you can write it. Your literary talent does not matter, because first of all you’re writing for a very special audience: Yourself. If you start writing with anyone else in mind, your entries probably will not be as honest and unprejudiced then. It’s your journal. Of course, you’re free to share your thoughts with whomever you want, but that does not mean you’ve got to write for them in the first place. Do it for yourself.

greenland

What, I am asking you, what if not the perspective to write about it in the journal could be a better reason to take on the adventure of yet another formidable journey?

Browsing through the stained and dog-eared pages at a later time, some quiet minute back at home, will not only bring back these memories – the journal rather offers the priceless chance to repeat that journey, that experience, that very special moment. Actually, the journal’s a time capsule – filled with your own thoughts. A materialized déjà vu.

And that is why I sit here on my desk this morning early this year, still in the dressing gown I just thrown on, with a cup of hot coffee next to me. Right in front of me, a worn leather-bound book. To review that year, dive down memory lane and discover those few moments I almost forgot. So, come on my fried – why not trying and make an effort too?

sincerely

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47 comments on “Why keeping a (travel) journal?

  1. sandalsand
    January 15, 2015

    This was a very good article bringing up good memories. I used to keep a diary to sort my memory, for else everything would get blurred in time – even though a lot of photographs would help. I never used sketches, judging from your illustrations you have a talent for it. In the last decade or so I have become totally out of practice using a pen and paper. I use new technology to take my notes. In addition I find that a video camera is a fine way to add comments (and memories to keep) more than a still photo is able to.

    • J.N.
      January 15, 2015

      Thanks a lot for your kind words! Sorting memories, putting them into their place and context – exactly the points I tried to raise here. And while it’s never too late to go back to (pen-and-paper) journaling ( ;-) ), I can clearly see all the opportunities, video journaling offers.

  2. The Vagabond Baker
    January 15, 2015

    Great minds think alike! Your journal looks so beautiful with the sketches and maps.
    I’ve got travel journals going back to 2008 and I treasure them, it’s amazing the stuff you forget. I’m so glad I have it written down, they really are like little time capsules. You can see mine here: http://vagabondbaker.com/2013/09/29/keeping-a-creative-travel-journal/
    I wrote it a while ago and I’ve written newer journals since. I’d recommend it to anyone, they mean so much to me. Even though I have my blog, my journal is a much more personal account of my travels plus I have momentos stuck in them too.

    • J.N.
      January 15, 2015

      Wow – as if I needed any more inspiration … these are great, Rachel! Great minds, I agree. ;-) Definitely covering the spirit, beautiful!
      You are right: these valubale accounts are time capsules indeed. Solidified memories. Great, you shared yours too. Thanks for your comment!

      • The Vagabond Baker
        January 20, 2015

        You are most welcome! Happy journalling, thank you :)

  3. TheCrazyBagLady
    January 25, 2015

    Thank you for this. I keep an art journal mainly for myself but I share it too. Im not great with words. You captured exactly how you feel in this post.

    • J.N.
      January 25, 2015

      Thanks for your kind words too! I am indeed convinced, this whole journaling thing works out best if you start doing it for yourself (and not having some audience in mind). Just having a look at your art journal now (a day a sketch – impressing!).

      • TheCrazyBagLady
        January 25, 2015

        A stranger who became a friend and mentor inspired me to embark on this journey. I enjoy keeping the art journal I don’t ever want to give it up! I’m sure you know how I feel! I’m happy to meet you :)

      • J.N.
        January 26, 2015

        Great inspiration – and browsing those old journals really is like some kind of time travel through memories, isn’t it. Don’t plan to give it up either. ;-)

      • TheCrazyBagLady
        January 26, 2015

        Well if yoh don’t I wont!!

  4. TheCrazyBagLady
    January 25, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Crazy Bag Lady @BulanLifestyle.com and commented:
    Agreed! Well said :)

    • Angie Mc
      January 26, 2015

      Thanks for sharing, Tiffany.

      • TheCrazyBagLady
        January 27, 2015

        You are most welcome Angie 🌹💕🌹💕

      • J.N.
        January 27, 2015

        Oh, and I thank you too. Both of you. ;-)

  5. hitandrun1964
    January 25, 2015

    Fun video:)

  6. jackiemallon
    January 26, 2015

    When nowadays self reflection seems to revolve around taking selfies, this is an appreciated reminder to just sit back a moment and smell the roses. Thank you!

    • J.N.
      January 26, 2015

      So well put – thanks for your kind comment; very much appreciated!

  7. bethbyrnes
    January 26, 2015

    How wonderful and with excellent illustrations, too. Wow!

    • J.N.
      January 26, 2015

      Thank you! Glad you liked it.

  8. Angie Mc
    January 26, 2015

    Sending this to my teen son who is on his way to being a world traveler. Thank you and glad to connect via TheCrazyBagLady’s reblog.

    • J.N.
      January 26, 2015

      Glad you liked it and I’m sure, you’re son wouldn’t regret starting a journal on his travels. Really keeps all those great encounters and experiences together over the years.

      • Angie Mc
        January 26, 2015

        He is on a flight to Hawaii for the first time as I type. He is 15 and traveling on a Space A flight with his dad. He wants to master this procedure so that at 18 he can travel on his own. Hopefully he’ll get my email and bring back the beginning of a beautiful journal.

  9. equinoxio21
    January 26, 2015

    Very nineteenth-century! And a good drawing hand. (Maybe you could scan the drawings? :)
    Have a great week.
    Brian

    • J.N.
      January 26, 2015

      Thanks for these kind compliments. To be honest, I was indeed influenced and inspired by those early travelogues. Scanned some of the sketches, but the journal format is too small to allow much more than rough scribblings capturing a moment (which actually is absolutely okay for my purposes).

  10. johncoyote
    January 28, 2015

    I have over 40 journals. Notes, poetry and story. Good for reference and to find a poem to be published if needed. I liked your thoughts on a journal.

    • J.N.
      January 29, 2015

      True, good to have some kind of outsourced memory to look up ideas and experiences. Thanks for your compliments.

  11. marissatejada
    January 28, 2015

    Hi thanks for the follow! Love that you have drawing/pics in your journal! Creative. How neat!! Journal keeping is really something fun and a great way to look back at how you thought at that time in your life.

    • J.N.
      January 29, 2015

      Thank you too! Keeping a journal truly is a great way to reflect and remember.

  12. Curt Mekemson
    February 8, 2015

    I’ve been maintaining a daily journal/travel journal for 15 years. I find it invaluable when looking back although I lack your fun sketches. Photography really helps as well, especially when it comes to blogging. Great blog. –Curt

    • J.N.
      February 8, 2015

      Thanks for your comment and compliments! Completely agreeing on your point regarding value and benefit of a journal when ‘looking back’. 15 years! That’s indeed quite collection, I’ll bet. Great!

      • Curt Mekemson
        February 8, 2015

        It’s like dropping back to a prior point in your life. Always fun. Just checked. On February 8, 2003, I was hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore. :) –Curt

      • J.N.
        February 9, 2015

        Heck yes – good way to check alibis … just in case police needes to know. ;-)
        Thanks for your comment!

  13. Pingback: Dispatches from the field: A telegraphed expedition diary | Vagabond's Log

  14. yeahanotherblogger
    May 27, 2015

    All I can say is WOW. Your blog is fantastic.

    • J.N.
      May 27, 2015

      Thank you for this compliment!

  15. raelynn717
    May 27, 2015

    I’m a French horn player and just got back from a European tour with an Air Force band. I started a blog primarily focused on the photos; photography is my second baby, if you will. I’ve never been a very eloquent writer, but after reading your posts they make me want to read and write more! Thank you for sharing!

    • J.N.
      May 27, 2015

      Thanks a lot for your kind words! Don’t hesitate writing just because you think, you’re not eloquent enough. First and of all: Do it for yourself. Don’t push it, don’t try to satisfy anyone but you. Works for me. ;-)

  16. Pingback: From the sketchbook: Gadding around Greenland | Vagabond's Log

  17. Pingback: Dispatches from the field: A telegraphed expedition diary | Sincerely yours, Jens

  18. Pingback: From the sketchbook: Gadding around Greenland | Sincerely yours, Jens

  19. Juli
    May 2, 2016

    I love this idea of keeping a diary. It all makes sense, especially in years after, when you turn back the pages, and sit quietly, lost in thoughts, but amazing pictures comes back to mind and the people involved of whom you ought to see and wonder what has happened to them and now this minute, reminding and talking to yourself, “I want to go back and bring back the days, give a surprise visit and learn what has been happening after the day I left.”
    I keep a diary too, but in mine, I only drop some words of where I am and how it looks like and I even draw the roads with all its aspects – so later when I start writing, great ideas and words comes to mind for the writings.
    Traveling is great!

    • Jens
      May 2, 2016

      For sure! And that’s exactly why I’m not tired of advocating for regularly keeping journals and never leave home without note and sketch book. You’ll never know the encounters you meet on the road – and so much will be lost if you don’t grab the chance, nailing it down with pencil and brush. ;-)

  20. Dut Pekmezi
    July 24, 2016

    Little unimportant things… A conversation with a local. “That” feeling when you understand that you’re lost. Little jokes. Little blunders and misunderstandings (does these happen only to me? :) ). You cannot photograph these! You never forget a monument or a river. But those little things? They’re actually so great, they’re the things what make a journey “ours”, they’re so delicate and can easily be lost! And if you want to preserve that spirit, that ether in the bottle, you need words. This is a great letter, and I read the comments too, and I saw there are so many people sharing the same feelings. This is amazing! Selfie sticks still couldn’t manage to kill us all! :)

    • Jens
      July 24, 2016

      Oh, thank you. A lot! The little details! Indeed. Nicely said, you hit exactly the point I wanted to make. Always glad to notice there are similar minds out there!

  21. Pingback: Jens Notroff | Desert Island Archaeologies

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2015 by in Reflecting and tagged , , , , , .
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